Tuesday September 25, 2018
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Relief fund misuse and Fadnavis’ misplaced priorities

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By Sapan Kapoor

Over 650 debt-ridden, wretched farmers have committed suicides in BJP-ruled Maharashtra in this year alone. The extent of the problem can be realized by the fact that the state government has declared 14,708 villages as drought-hit.

The Bombay High Court has even issued notice to the Devendra Fadnavis-led government seeking its response on the increasing number of farmer suicides in the state due to drought.

“Tell us what steps you are taking and what the ground level situation is,” a bench of justices Naresh Patil and S B Shukre asked.

The government pleader informed the court that farmers were being counseled by psychiatrists, loans and electricity charges were being waived, banks and cooperative societies were told not to recover loans.

It is a pity that when the state is reeling under such a severe crisis, a query filed under the Right to Information Act by activist Anil Galgali has revealed that CM Fadnavis granted Rs 8 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for a government employee’s dance group Sachivalaya Gymkhana’s visit to Thailand from December 26-30 last year.

Fadnavis, however, denied any wrongdoing over the alleged misuse of relief fund.

“The Chief Minister’s Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief. For cultural activities, 25 per cent of the fund is reserved. Out of that we sponsor people for cultural activities,” Fadnavis said.

This apparent insensitivity and callousness shown by the Chief Minister and his party over this pressing issue should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But, he is not the only one in the saffron party who has been accused of being injudicious in his approach in dealing with sensitive issues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s incessant, whirlwind foreign trips to 20 countries from June 2014 and June 2015, an RTI query has revealed, has cost the exchequer over Rs 37 crore as well, inviting sharp criticism from various sections of the society.

I am in no way suggesting that our PM should give his world tour, selfie spree a break and instead look at the plight of poor farmers, for his supporters claim that his visits abroad – twice to the USA – have helped India in getting business and much needed foreign investment.

I am all for investment and business coming to India, for that will bring along with it jobs for the unemployed youth who rallied behind the PM during his election campaign and voted for him in large numbers.

CM Fadnavis and PM Modi have, however, failed to understand that in a country like India where over 60 per cent people live below the poverty line, the government ought to get its priorities right and ensure optimum use of available resources.

Thus, Rs 8 lakh that Fadnavis showered upon the babus for their junket from his relief fund or over Rs 37 crore that PM Modi spent on his world tour could have perchance saved many lives. For since December 2014 to October this year over 650 farmers have been forced to commit suicide. But, perhaps expecting humanity, moral righteousness and due consideration from our leaders seems like asking for too much of them.

When a BJP leader draws a puppy analogy while speaking about the brutal murder of two Dalit children, when a Sadhvi uses expletives against a community during an election speech, when a Union Minister terms Dadri lynching as an ‘accident’ and when the head of a state gets his priorities wrong, we should look within and introspect.

As Joseph de Maistre, a French philosopher, once said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

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Fall Of The Currency And Increase In Oil Prices: India ‘s Turmoil

The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars.

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India
Rajesh Kumar, left, shares a ride to work with another employee, Dilip Swain, right, as higher petrol prices in India begin to be felt in people's pocketbooks.VOA

The fall of the currency of India to record lows and rising global oil prices have raised worries that the world’s fastest growing economy faces headwinds that could hurt the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in next year’s general elections.

From people filling fuel at gas stations to thousands of students heading out to study overseas, the impact of the slumping rupee is sparking discontent.

Having plunged by about 12 percent against the dollar this year, the rupee is one of Asia’s worst faring currencies, and as in other countries, the slide has accelerated since the crash of the Turkish lira.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in last few months, dollar has strengthened against almost every currency,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he tried to send out reassuring signals that India’s economy is on track.

India
The rupee has plunged by about 12 percent this year raising fears of spiraling inflation. VOA

The rupee’s sharp depreciation comes at a time when the economy had recovered from a slowdown and surged to a two-year high in the quarter that ended in June. Forecasts put growth for this year at 7.5 percent.

Economy will slow

But economists warn this momentum will be difficult to sustain as the tumbling rupee, along with rising crude oil prices, takes a toll on growth. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, gets almost 80 percent of its fuel needs overseas.

“The government needs to mellow down on growth aspirations,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “The growth needs to come down to a little less than 7 percent.”

Even as the government faces the prospect of a slowing economy, it is under pressure to lower taxes on gas and diesel to bring down the sharp rise in prices. Fuel is one of the most heavily taxed items in India, with rates as high as nearly 50 percent. Prices vary from state to state, but they have gone up by about 14 percent this year.

Hoping to cash in on the growing disaffection over the surge in fuel prices and the sliding rupee, opposition parties led nationwide protests that shutdown offices and schools in several cities this week.

India
Discontent with spiraling fuel prices poses a challenge to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of general elections next year. VOA

The government dismissed the protests, saying that although people faced momentary difficulties, they understood they were because of factors beyond its control.

Political analysts are not so sure, pointing out that fuel prices are a politically sensitive issue in India and usually result in a spike in inflation.

“Anger is rising, there is resentment,” said Satish Misra at the Observer Research Foundation, warning the ruling party will face a backlash “Obviously that is going to have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Warnings from economists

Among those who are upset with the high fuel prices is Rajesh Kumar, who commutes 30 kilometers to the advertising agency where he works. Hit by the higher prices that eat into his income, he has started sharing the ride with another employee.

India
Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“I have given up the idea of buying another car,” he said despondently. “I will not be able to afford the cost of running it.”

Economists however have warned the government against giving in to populist pressures ahead of a series of state polls later this year and general elections around April next year. They say lowering taxes on fuel or taking measures to prop up the currency will strain the country’s finances and hurt the economy in the long run.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“One needs to be more careful and vigilant,” Bhanumurthy said. “It is easy for India to stay with low growth than experiencing the high deficit.”

But there is also some good news for the Indian economy. The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars. (VOA)